Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.
~M.F.K. Fisher

Vice unbound on a plate, again. My openly lascivious affairs with both Egg and Pig reappear. Is it coincidence that I lustily deify these worldly beings both of which irreverently boast three letter names? Egg and Pig are gluttonous, addictive, more than venial sins with no hint of repentant shame…maybe less like the Seven Deadly and more like food as Providence.

Essentials of this dish are handcrafted and dreamily aromatic artisanal bread, preferably a ciabatta loaf, and premium bacon. Think heirloom swine, too. Artisanal bread (or should I say authentic bread) simply means the loaves are traditionally handcrafted, rather than mechanically mass produced. Superior ingredients are blended, slowly fermented, hand shaped, and baked in small batches in masonry ovens with an acute eye on vivid flavors and textures. The core ingredients are fewer (organic flour, water, salt, fermentation agent) than the industrial variety, and the bread is crafted without enhancers or chemical additives—as bread has been artfully baked for centuries. Like finding trusted butchers and fishmongers, discovering a skilled baker is blissful.

Ciabatta is the Italian word for “slipper” which roughly depicts the shape of this loaf. With a light, airy structure this bread is ideal for bruschetta, crostini, and panini.

A protean dish, this serves well at any meal—day or night. Consider tabling it after that mayhem of unwrapping gifts ceases this month. In lieu of the parmiggiano-reggiano, a ladling of hollandaise or bearnaise or a light drizzle of white truffle oil (with the parmiggiano-reggiano) brings elegant touches. (See Sauces Mères, Hollandaise & Bearnaise, August 16, 2009).

POACHED EGG BRUSCHETTA WITH WILTED SPINACH & BACON

4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 t dried crushed red pepper

4 1 1/2″ thick slices of ciabatta, cut on the bias

1 lb thick bacon

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T shallot, peeled and finely minced
1 lb fresh baby spinach
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 local, fresh, free range organic eggs,* room temperature

Parmiggiano-reggianno, freshly grated or shaven

For the bacon: cook in large skillet until crisp and transfer to paper towels to drain. Set aside.

For the bread: heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic, thyme and crushed pepper and cook until the garlic is light brown. Remove and discard garlics. Add bread slices to the skilled and cook until golden browned and well infused with the garlic oil. Set aside.

For the spinach, add olive oil over heavy skillet and heat over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté 2 minutes, then add spinach and stir until just wilted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices in half to fit. You may wish to place in oven until heated through before you drop the poached egg on top.

For the eggs: fill a large heavy based skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water; bring it to a boil, and add the white wine vinegar The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white which will help to retain shape. Reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. If the water is too cool, the egg will separate before cooking; if the water is boiling too rapidly, the whites will be tough and the yolks over cooked.

Crack each egg into a shallow bowl to assure the yolks are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. They should goo out with a fork when served. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off.

To build: strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices. (You may wish to place in oven under low heat) while the eggs are poaching. Place 2 poached egg atop each. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve topped with parmiggiano-reggiano.

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Experience, which plays such an important part in culinary work, is nowhere so necessary as in the preparation of sauce for not only must the latter flatter the palate, but they must also vary in savor, consistency and viscosity, in accordance with the dishes they accompany.
~Auguste Escoffier

It is about time to hop on the Julie & Julia bandwagon. Whatever your take on Julie Powell or your perspective on the film, it is a staunch reminder that Julia Child should be accorded the respect and homage she deserves as a revered grande dame of home cuisine. She profoundly changed the fabric of the American kitchen and introduced us to the utter grace and simplicity of French cooking. It seems only fitting to offer a post on sauces mères which includes two of her most adored, Hollandaise and Bernaise.

(One of life’s small, but nagging, regrets: one Monday several years ago, I was reading the Santa Barbara News Press and learned that the day before Julia and Jacques Pépin attended a gathering at the art museum which was appeared to be open to the public. I was staying just down the street, and somehow the event had eluded my radar. Damn.)

A mother sauce or sauce grande serves as a base sauce to use in making other variations on the original theme. There are five classic sauces mères from which all other major sauces derive:

Espagnole or Brown sauce (demi-glace) is brown stock-based, and includes sauces such as Bordelaise, Chasseur, Chateaubriand.

Velouté sauce is based on white stock and roux, and includes sauces such as Allemande, Ravigote, Suprème, and White Bordelaise.

Béchamel sauce is made with milk and pale roux, and includes sauces such as Crème, Mornay and Soubise.

Tomat or red sauce is tomato based, and includes sauces such as Marinara.

Hollandaise sauce is emulsified, and includes sauces such as Mayonnaise and Bearnaise.

Sauce is a French term which descends from the Latin word salsus, meaning “salted.” In ancient Rome, sauces were used to disguise flavors—possibly to conceal doubtful freshness. A defining characteristic of classic cuisine, French sauces date back to the Middle Ages.

Originally four in number, the basic mother sauces were initially classified in the 19th century by the father of French “grande cuisine,” Antonin Carême: Sauce Tomat, Béchamel, Velouté, and Espagnole. Then in the 20th century, master chef Auguste Escoffier added the fifth and final mother sauce, Hollandaise, with its derivatives covering almost all forms of classical emulsion sauces including Mayonnaise (see Mayonaisse, 03.03.09).

Warmed egg yolks with the tang of lemon juice whisked with butter to make a thick, yellow cream. The classic sauce that dresses eggs Benedict, tangy and velvety Hollandaise is equally delectable spooned over asparagus, brussels sprouts, green beans, potatoes, poultry or even with sandwiches. Bearnaise, with its characteristic piquant flavors of wine vinegar and tarragon, pairs well with steak, flatfish, shellfish, artichokes, and poached eggs too.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE

10 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces, melted and clarified

3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
2 T unsalted butter, chilled, divided equally and cut into small pieces

Sea salt and white pepper

Clarify the butter. Place butter pieces into a saucepan over moderate heat. When the butter has melted, skim off the foam and strain the clear yellowish liquid into a bowl, leaving the milky residue in the bottom of the pan. (The residue can be used for soups or sauces later.)

In a heavy saucepan, vigorously whisk egg yolks for a minute or so until they are slightly thickened and pale yellow. Beat the lemon juice and salt into the eggs and then add 1 tablespoon of the chilled butter and pinch of salt.

Place the pan over low heat or simmering water and whisk further until the egg mixture becomes smooth, creamy, and even thicker. This should take 1-2 minutes and you should see the bottom of the pan between strokes. Promptly remove from heat and beat in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter which should cause the eggs to cease cooking.

Slowly dribble in the melted butter, rapidly beating in each addition before you add the next. Make sure you scrape the mixture from the sides and bottom of the pan. When the sauce is as thick as heavy cream, you may beat in the butter in larger driblets. It takes about 5 minutes to create the final emulsion.

Serve at once or keep the sauce warm by setting it over a pan of lukewarm water. Take care, because if kept too warm, the sauce will turn—the egg yolks will begin to curdle and the butter will separate.

Pourboire: Should the sauce turn or fail to thicken, spoon out a tablespoon or so into a mixing bowl. Whisk with a tablespoon of lemon juice until it thickens, then gradually whisk in small spoonfuls of sauce, allowing the mixture to cream and thicken before adding the next.

BEARNAISE SAUCE

1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C dry white wine
1 T minced shallots
1 t dried tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 large egg yolks
8-10 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

In a small saucepan combine wine vinegar, wine, shallots, and dried tarragon and simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cool and strain through a fine sieve.

In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolks until they become thick and sticky. Whisk in the reduced vinegar mixture, salt and pepper. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. The yolk mixture should be thickened enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.

While whisking the yolk mixture gradually pour in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time whisking thoroughly to incorporate before adding more butter. As the mixture begins to thicken and become creamy, the butter can be added more rapidly.

Season to taste with chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. To keep the sauce warm, set the bowl over lukewarm water.

“Sauce” Gribiche

June 2, 2009

Akin to, but neither a classic mayonnaise nor hollandaise, it has been assumed that gribiche potentially has French parentage. So far, my research reveals that gribiche may be a culinary orphan with unknown lineage—which makes it deserve no less adoration. Think summer hues, picnics.

GRIBICHE

4 hard cooked eggs, yolks only

1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C white wine vinegar

2 T fresh tarragon, finely chopped
2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 T chives, thinly sliced
3 T capers, drained and chopped
6 cornichons, finely chopped
1 T dijon mustard
1 C extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the shallot and white wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the tarragon, parsley, chives, capers, cornichons, mustard and olive oil. Finely chop the egg yolk and add to the bowl. Then add the wine vinegar, shallots, a pinch of salt, and whisk vigorously. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If possible, chill overnight in the refrigerator so the flavors may meld.

Serve over asparagus, leeks, boiled potatoes, poached eggs, shrimp, fish, or cold chicken.